- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2006

MOSCOW — Russian lawmakers yesterday unanimously blamed the United States for the deaths of four Russian diplomats in Iraq, highlighting growing tensions between the two countries ahead of a meeting of Group of Eight foreign ministers in Moscow today.

Moscow also demanded in a proposed U.S. Security Council resolution that coalition forces in Baghdad provide better security for diplomats. The United States and Britain resisted the resolution.

President Vladimir Putin instructed Russian security services to find the killers and “destroy” them.

“The tragedy that occurred recently in Iraq was only possible because of the growing crisis in the country as the occupying powers increasingly lose control of the situation,” read a motion unanimously approved by the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.

“All the responsibility for the situation in Iraq, including the security of its citizens and of foreign workers, lies with the occupying powers. We are convinced that they could have prevented this tragedy,” the lawmakers said hours before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Moscow for today’s G-8 ministerial meeting.

Moscow confirmed Monday that terrorists had killed the four diplomats, beheading two of them in an Internet video, after Russia refused their demand that its forces leave the breakaway Muslim republic of Chechnya. An insurgent group led by al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility.

The Kremlin press service said yesterday that Mr. Putin “has ordered Russia’s secret services to take all necessary steps to find and destroy the criminals who committed this evil deed.”

It did not say which Russian special forces are in Iraq or under what authority they would be acting in that country.

In New York, U.S. and British diplomats objected to language in a Russian draft resolution that said the Security Council “calls upon the government of Iraq and the Multinational Forces to undertake measures aimed at enhancing the security of foreign diplomatic missions in Iraq and their staff.”

Russian diplomats said talks on the text were continuing, and Reuters news agency quoted U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton as saying, “They’re going to have a statement. It’s just a question of when.”

Diplomats told Reuters that the Iraqi government, which is not a member of the 15-nation council, also considered the language to be an insult. Any such council statement requires unanimous approval.

The tension over Iraq is just one of several issues likely to cloud the talks among foreign ministers from the G-8, which is made up of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.

“Given Russia’s latest trend of reasserting itself as a world power, I don’t think the atmosphere will be very easy,” said Masha Lipman, a political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said this week that the ministers had “agreed to address the issue of ongoing conflicts, … notably the Middle East settlement, Iran’s nuclear programs and the nuclear problems of the Korean Peninsula.”

He added that Iraq and Afghanistan would feature prominently.

Mrs. Lipman said Russian officials will be eager to gauge whether the G-8 leaders intend to repeat Western criticisms of the state of democracy in Russia at next month’s summit in St. Petersburg.

“Russia is certainly seeking to avoid any criticism of its domestic policies and its policies on the former countries of the U.S.S.R. in St. Petersburg,” she said. “Russia will be trying to find out whether the leaders of the other countries are in the mood to make this event one where they will find fault with Russia.”

Miss Rice said that tactics used by Russia in an energy dispute with Ukraine last winter did not befit a responsible member of the world economy, and Vice President Dick Cheney accused Moscow last month of backsliding on democracy and using its energy resources as a tool for “intimidation and blackmail” against its neighbors.

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